First came a career in international travel. Next came international love. Then came my chance to work abroad via a company transfer to Switzerland. I have been often asked, “I want to work abroad too, what advice do you have for me to make it happen?” My first question back, “Do you speak any other languages?”
International competition is fierce
English ability is a highly sought skill but they want it in addition to several other languages.
Living in Switzerland I am surrounded by people who speak 2, 3, 4+ languages. A person on the outside of any international worker agreements, such as the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP) which allows EU members and the Swiss to find work in any EU country without needing a special visa, has a difficult time obtaining the right to work. Beyond visa granting quotas, you must first find a company willing to sponsor you (this costs them money). Next, that company will need to fight to prove that you are more qualified than any person already within the country (and in the case of AFMP countries, the whole of the EU). Specialty knowledge can sometimes be enough if there is a shortage of skilled workers. However, additional languages, particularly those of the host country will be advantageous.
There are other paths. You may be able to work remotely around the world or be like me and be transferred within your company. In either of these cases, I still recommend focusing on learning at least one additional language. Not only are there business advantages (I plan to get into this in other posts), but for integration and personal happiness reasons as well.
I struggle in Swiss-German-speaking Switzerland. It can be lonely. There is a great expat community where I live but I miss everyday interactions with people in a shop, on the street, or on the bus. English level here is rather high, but I don’t like to assume people speak it (native English guilt), so I go about my errands a bit isolated with the minimal conversation with strangers. Restaurant lingo has improved for me so at least now I usually know what I am ordering. It was a bit more of an adventure when I first arrived!
With so many languages, where should you focus if you want to work abroad?
Do you have a particular destination in mind, or are you more open? I find German to be the dominant language in Europe behind English. But Spanish would open your doors also to Central and most of South America, and French would open your doors also to parts of Canada and many countries in Africa.
Are you concerned with the amount of time it takes to learn the language?
Romance languages top the list for easiest languages for an English speaker to learn. According to a Languageline study, the top three easiest languages to learn are all Romance languages, French (550 hours), Portuguese (575 hours), and Italian (590 hours). There are a lot of similarities between the Romance languages, so once you have picked up one, it is not as difficult to add others. My Italian husband has never studied Spanish but picked it up quickly enough in business interactions to be proficient enough to hold conversations in Spanish. Play around with their map:
Where to start?
If you want a fun way to get into a new language, I love the FREE duolingo app (available in the App Store, Google Play, and Windows Store). It has really built up in the past few years and I think it’s very similar to the basic platform of Rosetta Stone.
From my experience, Rosetta Stone’s pronunciation recognition is more advanced and it may push you a bit more in comprehension beyond a single sentence. However, if you are going to pay, I like their Skype tutoring that their online offer includes. You have to discipline yourself as it is a use it-or lose-it subscription based program but pushing yourself to orally communicate in a language is crucial. A bigger financial commitment, but if you don’t think you are disciplined to do it on your own, scout out a class in your area or private tutor.
To sum it up, my biggest advice to not only find work abroad but to be happy in your surroundings is to learn a language. And if you are of age, a nice big glass of red wine sure makes speaking in another language a whole lot less scary. I am magically more fluent in Italian at the bottom of a nice bottle of vino rosso!